Centenarian
Overview
 
A centenarian is a person who is or lives beyond the age of 100 years. Because current average life expectancies
Life expectancy
Life expectancy is the expected number of years of life remaining at a given age. It is denoted by ex, which means the average number of subsequent years of life for someone now aged x, according to a particular mortality experience...

 across the world are less than 100, the term is invariably associated with longevity
Longevity
The word "longevity" is sometimes used as a synonym for "life expectancy" in demography or known as "long life", especially when it concerns someone or something lasting longer than expected ....

. Much rarer, a supercentenarian
Supercentenarian
A supercentenarian is someone who has reached the age of 110 years. This age is achieved by about one in a thousand centenarians....

 is a person who has lived to the age of 110 or more, something only achieved by about one in a thousand centenarians. Even rarer is a person who has lived to 115 years old; only 1 in 50,000 centenarians make it to this age.
The United States currently has the greatest number of centenarians in the world, estimated at 70,490 on September 1, 2010.
Encyclopedia
A centenarian is a person who is or lives beyond the age of 100 years. Because current average life expectancies
Life expectancy
Life expectancy is the expected number of years of life remaining at a given age. It is denoted by ex, which means the average number of subsequent years of life for someone now aged x, according to a particular mortality experience...

 across the world are less than 100, the term is invariably associated with longevity
Longevity
The word "longevity" is sometimes used as a synonym for "life expectancy" in demography or known as "long life", especially when it concerns someone or something lasting longer than expected ....

. Much rarer, a supercentenarian
Supercentenarian
A supercentenarian is someone who has reached the age of 110 years. This age is achieved by about one in a thousand centenarians....

 is a person who has lived to the age of 110 or more, something only achieved by about one in a thousand centenarians. Even rarer is a person who has lived to 115 years old; only 1 in 50,000 centenarians make it to this age.

Current incidence

The United States currently has the greatest number of centenarians in the world, estimated at 70,490 on September 1, 2010. This statistic is partly a result of America's large population in 1890–1910, its large farm population a century ago, and its increased emphasis on long-term care
Long-term care
Long-term care is a variety of services which help meet both the medical and non-medical need of people with a chronic illness or disability who cannot care for themselves for long periods of time....

 facilities.

Japan has the second largest number of centenarians, with 44,449 reported as of September 2010. Japan started its surveys in 1963, at which time the number of Japanese centenarians was found to be 153. This number surpassed the 10,000 mark in 1998; 20,000 in 2003 and 40,000 in 2009. According to a UN Demographic survey, by 2050 Japan is expected to have 272,000 centenarians. However, some sources suggest that the number could be closer to 1 million. Many experts attribute Japan's high life expectancy
Life expectancy
Life expectancy is the expected number of years of life remaining at a given age. It is denoted by ex, which means the average number of subsequent years of life for someone now aged x, according to a particular mortality experience...

 to the Japanese diet
Diet (nutrition)
In nutrition, diet is the sum of food consumed by a person or other organism. Dietary habits are the habitual decisions an individual or culture makes when choosing what foods to eat. With the word diet, it is often implied the use of specific intake of nutrition for health or weight-management...

, which is particularly low in refined simple carbohydrates, and to hygienic practices. In addition, the number of centenarians in relation to the total population was, in September 2010, 114% higher in Shimane Prefecture
Shimane Prefecture
is a prefecture of Japan located in the Chūgoku region on Honshū island. The capital is Matsue. It is the second least populous prefecture in Japan, after its eastern neighbor Tottori. The prefecture has an area elongated from east to west facing the Chūgoku Mountain Range on the south side and to...

 than the ratio for the whole of Japan. This ratio was also 92% higher in Okinawa Prefecture
Okinawa Prefecture
is one of Japan's southern prefectures. It consists of hundreds of the Ryukyu Islands in a chain over long, which extends southwest from Kyūshū to Taiwan. Okinawa's capital, Naha, is located in the southern part of Okinawa Island...

. Okinawa Prefecture
Okinawa Prefecture
is one of Japan's southern prefectures. It consists of hundreds of the Ryukyu Islands in a chain over long, which extends southwest from Kyūshū to Taiwan. Okinawa's capital, Naha, is located in the southern part of Okinawa Island...

 used to have the highest percentage of centenarians in Japan. Early estimates were possibly exaggerated, but the corrected ratio was still 139% higher than the average for Japan in September 2006. In addition to diet, there are four other factors that have been found to increase the life expectancy for Okinawans, as noted later in the "research into centenarians" section of this article.

The incidence of centenarians in Japan was 1 per 3,522 people in 2008 (but much higher in Okinawa, at 1 per 1,838 people in 2006), and 1 per 4,400 in the United States.

However, the number of Japanese centenarians was called into question in 2010 following a series of reports showing that hundreds of thousands of elderly people had gone "missing" in the country. The deaths of many centenarians had not been reported, casting doubt on the reliability of not only the Japanese statistics, but also the country's reputation for having a large population of centenarians.

Traditions

In many countries, people receive a gift or congratulations on their 100th birthday. In the United States, centenarians traditionally receive a letter from the president
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

, congratulating them for their longevity. NBC
NBC
The National Broadcasting Company is an American commercial broadcasting television network and former radio network headquartered in the GE Building in New York City's Rockefeller Center with additional major offices near Los Angeles and in Chicago...

's The Today Show show has also named new centenarians on air since 1983. In the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth Realms, the Queen sends greetings (formerly as a telegram) on the 100th birthday and on every birthday starting with the 105th. Centenarians born in Ireland receive a €2,540 "Centenarians' Bounty" and a letter from the President of Ireland
President of Ireland
The President of Ireland is the head of state of Ireland. The President is usually directly elected by the people for seven years, and can be elected for a maximum of two terms. The presidency is largely a ceremonial office, but the President does exercise certain limited powers with absolute...

, even if they are resident abroad
Irish diaspora
thumb|Night Train with Reaper by London Irish artist [[Brian Whelan]] from the book Myth of Return, 2007The Irish diaspora consists of Irish emigrants and their descendants in countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, Argentina, New Zealand, Mexico, South Africa,...

. Japanese centenarians receive a silver cup and a certificate from the Prime Minister of Japan
Prime Minister of Japan
The is the head of government of Japan. He is appointed by the Emperor of Japan after being designated by the Diet from among its members, and must enjoy the confidence of the House of Representatives to remain in office...

 upon their 100th birthday, honouring them for their longevity and prosperity in their lives. Swedish centenarians receive a telegram from the King and Queen of Sweden. Centenarians born in Italy receive a letter from the President of Italy.

An aspect of blessing
Blessing
A blessing, is the infusion of something with holiness, spiritual redemption, divine will, or one's hope or approval.- Etymology and Germanic paganism :...

 in many cultures is to offer a wish that the recipient lives to 100. Among Hindu
Hindu
Hindu refers to an identity associated with the philosophical, religious and cultural systems that are indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. As used in the Constitution of India, the word "Hindu" is also attributed to all persons professing any Indian religion...

s, people who touch the feet of elders are often blessed with "May you live a hundred years". In Sweden, the traditional birthday song states, May he/she live for one hundred years. In Judaism
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

, the term May you live to be 120 years old is used for blessing someone. In Poland, Sto lat
Sto lat
"Sto lat" is a traditional Polish song that is sung to express good wishes, good health and long life to a person. The song's author and exact origin are unattributed. The song is sung both at informal gatherings or at formal events, such as weddings...

, a wish to live a hundred years, is a traditional form of praise and good wishes, and the song "sto lat, sto lat" is sang on the occasion of the birthday celebrations--arguably, it is the most popular song in Poland and among Poles around the globe.
Chinese emperors were hailed to live ten thousand years
Ten thousand years
The use of the phrase "ten thousand years" in various East Asian languages originated in ancient China as an expression used to wish long life to the Emperor, and is typically translated as "long live" in English...

, while empresses were hailed to live a thousand years. In Italy, "A hundred of these days!" (cento di questi giorni) is an augury for birthdays, to live to celebrate 100 more birthdays. Some Italians say "Cent'anni!", which means "a hundred years", in that they wish that they could all live happily for a hundred years. In Greece, wishing someone Happy Birthday ends with the expression na ta ekatostisis, which can be loosely translated as "may you make it one hundred birthdays".

In Japan, September 15 is "National Respect for the Aged Day
Respect for the Aged Day
is a Japanese holiday celebrated annually to honor elderly citizens. A national holiday since 1966, this was previously held on September 15. Beginning in 2003, Respect for the Aged Day is held on the third Monday of September due to the Happy Monday System....

".

Centenarians in ancient times

While the density of centenarians per capita was much less in ancient times than today, the data suggest that reaching the age of 100 was not unheard of. However, ancient demographics are biased in favor of wealthy or powerful individuals rather than the ordinary person. Grmek and Gourevitch speculate that during the Classical Greek Period, anyone who made it past the age of five years — surviving all the common childhood illness of that day — had a reasonable chance of living to a ripe old age. Life expectancy at 400 B.C. was estimated to be around 30 years of age. One demographer of ancient civilizations reported that Greek men lived to 45 years (based on a sample size of 91), while women lived to 36.2 years (based on a sample size of 55). Curiously, the gender statistics are inverted compared to today, since child-birth was a much more traumatic experience at that time than now, and it certainly skewed female statistics downward. It was common for average citizens to take great care in their hygiene (sanitation), Mediterranean diet (fish, figs, olive oil, wine, etc.), and exercise program (sports/gymnasium), although there was much more male trauma per capita than today, due to military service being virtually universal for citizens. This also biased the statistics for men downward.

Diogenes Laertius
Diogenes Laertius
Diogenes Laertius was a biographer of the Greek philosophers. Nothing is known about his life, but his surviving Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers is one of the principal surviving sources for the history of Greek philosophy.-Life:Nothing is definitively known about his life...

 (c. 250) gives one of the earliest references regarding (plausible centenarian) longevity given by a scientist, the astronomer Hipparchus
Hipparchus
Hipparchus, the common Latinization of the Greek Hipparkhos, can mean:* Hipparchus, the ancient Greek astronomer** Hipparchic cycle, an astronomical cycle he created** Hipparchus , a lunar crater named in his honour...

 of Nicea (c. 185 – c. 120 B.C.), who, according to the doxographer, assured that the philosopher Democritus of Abdera (c. 470/460 – c. 370/360 B.C.) lived 109 years. All other accounts about Democritus given by the ancients appear to agree on the fact that the philosopher lived over 100 years. Such longevity would not be dramatically out of line with that of other ancient Greek philosophers thought to have lived beyond the age of 90 (e.g.: Xenophanes of Colophon, c. 570/565 – c. 475/470 B.C.; Pyrrho
Pyrrho
Pyrrho , a Greek philosopher of classical antiquity, is credited as being the first Skeptic philosopher and the inspiration for the school known as Pyrrhonism, founded by Aenesidemus in the 1st century BC.- Life :Pyrrho was from Elis, on the Ionian Sea...

 of Ellis, c. 360 - c. 270 B.C.; Eratosthenes
Eratosthenes
Eratosthenes of Cyrene was a Greek mathematician, poet, athlete, geographer, astronomer, and music theorist.He was the first person to use the word "geography" and invented the discipline of geography as we understand it...

 of Cirene c. 285 – c. 190 B.C., etc.). The case of Democritus differs from the case of, for example, Epimenides
Epimenides
Epimenides of Knossos was a semi-mythical 6th century BC Greek seer and philosopher-poet. While tending his father's sheep, he is said to have fallen asleep for fifty-seven years in a Cretan cave sacred to Zeus, after which he reportedly awoke with the gift of prophecy...

 of Crete (7th, 6th centuries B.C.), who is said to have lived an implausible 154, 157 or 290 years, depending on the source.

The sixth dynasty
Sixth dynasty of Egypt
The sixth dynasty of ancient Egypt is often combined with Dynasties III, IV and V under the group title the Old Kingdom.-Pharaohs:...

 Egyptian ruler Pepi II is believed by some Egyptologists to have lived to the age of 100 or more (c. 2278 BC - c. 2184 BC), as he ruled for 94 years. However this is under dispute, as others claim the length of his reign was actually 64 years.

The Indian Sufi poet, Kabir (1398-1518?) is believed by some to have lived to an unnatural age of 120 while others believe that he lived for no more than 80 years.

Ultimately, there is no reason to believe that centenarians did not exist 2500 years ago, even if they were not commonplace.

Hosius of Córdoba
Hosius of Córdoba
Hosius of Corduba , also known as Osius or Ossius, was a bishop of Cordova and one of the prominent advocates of what became Catholic Christianity in the Arian controversy which divided the IV century early Christian Church...

, the man who convinced Constantine the Great to call the First Council of Nicaea
First Council of Nicaea
The First Council of Nicaea was a council of Christian bishops convened in Nicaea in Bithynia by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in AD 325...

, reportedly lived to age 102.

The Chronicon of Bernold of Constance
Bernold of Constance
Bernold of Constance was a chronicler and writer of tracts, and a defender of the Church reforms of Pope Gregory VII.-Life:...

 records the death in 1097 of Azzo marchio de Longobardia
Albert Azzo II, Margrave of Milan
Alberto Azzo II , Margrave of Milan, and Liguria, Count of Gavello and Padua, Rovigo, Lunigiana, Monselice, and Montagnana, aka, Albertezzo II, was a powerful nobleman in the Holy Roman Empire...

, pater Welfonis ducis de Baiowaria
Welf I, Duke of Bavaria
Welf I was duke of Bavaria from 1070 to 1077 and from 1096 to his death. He was the first member of the Welf branch of the House of Este. In the Welf genealogy he is counted as Welf IV.-Life and reign:...

, commenting that he was iam maior centenario.

Conchobar Mac Con Rí
Conchobar Mac Con Rí
-Biography:Based on earlier accounts, James Hardiman relates that:"This year Conchubhar Mac-an-Righ, alias Connor King, an inhabitant of Arran, died at the extraordinary age of two hundred and twenty years. He remembered when there were but three stone houses, together with the abbey, the red...

 of Galway
Galway
Galway or City of Galway is a city in County Galway, Republic of Ireland. It is the sixth largest and the fastest-growing city in Ireland. It is also the third largest city within the Republic and the only city in the Province of Connacht. Located on the west coast of Ireland, it sits on the...

, Ireland, (died 1580), is said to have "died at the extraordinary age of two hundred and twenty years".

Research into centenarians

Research carried out in Italy suggests that healthy centenarians have high levels of vitamin A
Vitamin A
Vitamin A is a vitamin that is needed by the retina of the eye in the form of a specific metabolite, the light-absorbing molecule retinal, that is necessary for both low-light and color vision...

 and vitamin E
Vitamin E
Vitamin E is used to refer to a group of fat-soluble compounds that include both tocopherols and tocotrienols. There are many different forms of vitamin E, of which γ-tocopherol is the most common in the North American diet. γ-Tocopherol can be found in corn oil, soybean oil, margarine and dressings...

 and that this seems to be important in guaranteeing their extreme longevity. Other research contradicts this, however, and has found that these findings do not apply to centenarians from Sardinia
Sardinia
Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea . It is an autonomous region of Italy, and the nearest land masses are the French island of Corsica, the Italian Peninsula, Sicily, Tunisia and the Spanish Balearic Islands.The name Sardinia is from the pre-Roman noun *sard[],...

, for whom other factors probably play a more important role. A preliminary study carried out in Poland showed that, in comparison with young healthy female adults, centenarians living in Upper Silesia
Upper Silesia
Upper Silesia is the southeastern part of the historical and geographical region of Silesia. Since the 9th century, Upper Silesia has been part of Greater Moravia, the Duchy of Bohemia, the Piast Kingdom of Poland, again of the Lands of the Bohemian Crown and the Holy Roman Empire, as well as of...

 had significantly higher red blood cell glutathione reductase
Glutathione reductase
Glutathione reductase, also known as GSR or GR, is an enzyme that reduces glutathione disulfide to the sulfhydryl form GSH, which is an important cellular antioxidant....

 and catalase
Catalase
Catalase is a common enzyme found in nearly all living organisms that are exposed to oxygen, where it catalyzes the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide to water and oxygen...

 activities and higher, although insignificantly, serum levels of vitamin E
Vitamin E
Vitamin E is used to refer to a group of fat-soluble compounds that include both tocopherols and tocotrienols. There are many different forms of vitamin E, of which γ-tocopherol is the most common in the North American diet. γ-Tocopherol can be found in corn oil, soybean oil, margarine and dressings...

. Researchers in Denmark have also found that centenarians exhibit a high activity of glutathione reductase
Glutathione reductase
Glutathione reductase, also known as GSR or GR, is an enzyme that reduces glutathione disulfide to the sulfhydryl form GSH, which is an important cellular antioxidant....

 in red blood cells. In this study, those centenarians having the best cognitive and physical functional capacity tended to have the highest activity of this enzyme
Enzyme
Enzymes are proteins that catalyze chemical reactions. In enzymatic reactions, the molecules at the beginning of the process, called substrates, are converted into different molecules, called products. Almost all chemical reactions in a biological cell need enzymes in order to occur at rates...

.

Other research has found that people having parents who became centenarians have an increased number of naïve B cell
B cell
B cells are lymphocytes that play a large role in the humoral immune response . The principal functions of B cells are to make antibodies against antigens, perform the role of antigen-presenting cells and eventually develop into memory B cells after activation by antigen interaction...

s. It is well known that the children of parents who have a long life are also likely to reach a healthy age, but it is not known why, although the inherited genes are probably important. A variation in the gene FOXO3A is known to have a positive effect on the life expectancy of humans, and is found much more often in people living to 100 and beyond - moreover, this appears to be true worldwide.

Men and women who are 100 or older tend to have something else in common, an extroverted personality, says Thomas T. Perls, M.D., M.P.H., the director of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University. Centenarians will often have many friends, strong ties to relatives and a healthy dose of self-esteem.

Some research suggests that centenarian offspring are more likely to age in better cardiovascular health than their peers.

In John W. Santrock's book "A Topical Approach to Life-Span Development", there are five factors that research has suggested that are most important to longevity in centenarians:
1) heredity and family history
2) health, i.e. weight, diet, whether or not a person smokes, amount of exercise
3) education level
4) personality
5) lifestyle.

Santrock's book also noted that the largest group of centenarians are women who have never been married. Also, people who have been through traumatic life events, such as Holocaust survivors, learn to cope better with stress and poverty and are more likely to reach centenarian status.

In Okinawa, Japan, studies have shown five factors that have contributed to the large number of centenarians in that region:
  1. A diet that is heavy on grains, fish, and vegetables and light on meat, eggs, and dairy products.
  2. Low-stress lifestyles, which are proven significantly less stressful than that of the mainland inhabitants of Japan.
  3. A caring community, where older adults are not isolated and are taken better care of.
  4. High levels of activity, where locals work until an older age than the average age in other countries, and more emphasis on activities like walking and gardening to keep active.
  5. Spirituality, where a sense of purpose comes from involvement in spiritual matters and prayer eases the mind of stress and problems.


Although these factors vary from those mentioned in the previous study, the culture of Okinawa has proven these factors to be important in its large population of centenarians.

Numbers of centenarians

The total number of centenarians in the world is not well known. It has been estimated by the Population Division of the United Nations as 23,000 in 1950, 110,000 in 1990, 150,000 in 1995, 209,000 in 2000 and 324,000 in 2005. There were an estimated 455,000 centenarians in the world in 2009. But these estimates do not take into account the recent downward adjustments of national estimates made by several countries, such as the United States.
Country Latest number of centenarians (year) Earliest number of centenarians (year)
Australia 3,700 (30 June 2010) 203 (30 June 1971)
Belgium 1,559 (1 January 2010) 546 (1990)
Brazil 23,760 (17 September 2010) 13.865 (1991)
Canada 6,530 (1 July 2010) 3,125 (2001)
China 17,800 (2007) -
Czech Republic 404 (Nov.2006) -
UK 11,600 (2009) 102 (1911)
France 16,791 (1 January 2011) 7,754 (1 January 1999)
Germany 8,839 (2006) 232 (1885)
Italy 6,313 (2001) -
Japan 44,449 (September 2010) 155 (1960)
Netherlands 1,743 (2010) 10 (1900)
Peru 1,682 (7 February 2011) -
Poland 2,414 (25 July 2009) 500 (1970)
South Korea 961 (2005) -
Spain 5,891 (1 January 2009) -
Switzerland 796 (2000) 10 (1860)
USA 70,490 (September 2010) 2,300 (1950)

Centenarian controversy in Japan

In July 2010, a centenarian listed as the oldest living male in Tokyo, registered to be at age of 111, was found to have died some 30 years ago. The body was found mummified in its bed, resulting in the launching of a police investigation regarding centenarians who are over 105.

Soon after the discovery, the Japan police further found that at least 200 Japanese centenarians are missing, with the total likely to rise amid a nationwide search that began in early August 2010. In one case, the remains of a mother thought to be 104 had been stuffed into her son's backpack for nearly a decade.

There are growing concerns that Japan's welfare system can be exploited by unscrupulous family members keen to continue receiving benefits after the pensioners die. In one case, a man received around 9.5 million yen in pension payments despite his wife having died six years previously.

See also

  • Lists of centenarians
  • New England Centenarian Study
    New England Centenarian Study
    The New England Centenarian Study is a study of persons aged 100 and over in the Boston area. It is one of the oldest, largest and most prestigious studies in the USA and the world....

  • Okinawa Centenarian Study
    Okinawa Centenarian Study
    The Okinawa Centenarian Study is a study of the elderly people of Okinawa, Japan. The study, funded by Japan's ministry of health, is the largest of its kind ever carried out...

  • Oldest people
    Oldest people
    This is a list of tables of the verified oldest people in the world in ordinal rank, such as oldest person or oldest man. In these tables, a supercentenarian is considered 'verified' if his or her claim has been validated by an international body that specifically deals in longevity research, such...

  • Queensland Community Care Network
    Queensland Community Care Network
    Queensland Community Care Network Inc. is a charity organisation based in Queensland, Australia. QCCN was established in June 1990 to provide broad-based community services directly to people requiring some level of community or home support....

     for the 100+ Club
  • Research into centenarians
    Research into centenarians
    A centenarian is a person who has attained the age of 100 years or more. Research on centenarians is becoming increasingly widespread with clinical and general population studies now having been conducted in France, Hungary, Japan, Italy, Finland, Denmark, the United States, and China. Centenarians...


External links

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